5 ways sewing can boost your wellbeing and make you feel happier Have you ever been so deeply immersed in an activity you’ve completely lost track of time? I bet you came back to Earth with a thud and wondered where the afternoon had gone. That wonderful feeling of being completely engrossed in an enjoyable activity is known as ‘flow’ and it’s just one of the many benefits of sewing for mental health. Increasingly, research shows that craft activities like sewing release the feel-good hormone dopamine, provide a distraction from worries, give people a creative outlet and sense of accomplishment and help people feel happier. But how does it work? Well, sewing is a step-by-step process that requires concentration and creativity. You choose a piece of fabric from your (ever-growing!) stash, closely follow a pattern, cutting and pinning as you go. You see the needle whiz up and down and hear the machine whirring and at the end you’ve created something beautiful you can actually wear. There’s a huge sense of accomplishment in that. And, during the process of creating your masterpiece, you’ve entered a zen-like state of flow and the distractions and worries of the outside world can slip away for a while. Mentel health in Australia: the facts Mental illness is very common, with one in five Australians aged 16-85 experiencing a mental illness in any year. According to the Black Dog Institute, the most common illnesses are depression, anxiety and substance abuse disorder. These three illnesses often occur in combination, so a person with anxiety could also develop depression, or a person with depression might misuse alcohol or other drugs in an effort to self-medicate. Mental health does not discriminate and can affect anybody at any stage of life. While we have access to medications and a range of therapies to treat mental ill-health, it is widely recognised that there are lifestyle choices we also can make to improve our sense of wellbeing. Eating well, getting enough sleep and doing some exercise are all great for wellbeing, as well as spending time doing activities you enjoy. Pursuing a hobby is one way to relax and unwind from your daily routine and research shows people with hobbies are less likely to suffer from low moods, stress and depression. In one survey, conducted by the Australian Psychological Society, 4 in 5 participants found activities like listening to music and spending time on a hobby were moderately or highly effective in managing stress. Craft as a therapy is not new According to Professor Susan Luckman from the University of South Australia, craft can be an antidote to the stresses and pressures of modern living. And those pressures are significant. These days, more than ever before we’re constantly connected. With our calendars and emails now on our phone, it’s almost impossible to leave work at the office. Dr Luckman writes: “With what is increasingly referred to today as ‘mindfulness’ being a much-desired quality for many people, it’s not surprising crafts are being sought out for their mental and even physical benefits. “For over a century, arts and craft-based activity have been a core part of occupational therapy that emerged as a distinct health field around the end of the First World War in response to the needs of returned soldiers. This includes many suffering from what we now refer to as post-traumatic stress disorder, but then referred to as shell shock.” Want to know more about how sewing can boost your wellbeing and make you happier 1. It allows your brain to switch off When we spend so much time connected to screens and devices, either due to work or by choice, it’s really refreshing to disconnect for a while. Each day, our brains are processing more information than ever before, often leading us to become tired, but also unable to switch off. In 2011, Americans took in five times as much information as they did in 1986. That was in 2011. Imagine what that looks like now, eight years later? Clare Hunter, author of Threads of Life: a History of the World Through the Eye of a Needle, talks about the calming effects of sewing and the joy it can bring to switch off. She says: “Sewing is increasingly becoming recognised as an effective way to combat depression, the absorption demanded by needlework – its flow – calming the mind and reducing stress. The sense of accomplishment can boost mental health and improve our immune system, as relief from the pressure of multitasking is replaced by focussing on one thing.” “In our social media age, as we become more physically distanced from each other, sewing is a safeguard to isolation, a way to stay in touch with each other: hand and mind working in harmony to convey what lies in our hearts.” This theory is echoed by psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, who first described the phenomenon of ‘flow’, that feeling of complete absorption in an activity. He says: “When we are involved in (creativity), we feel that we are living more fully than during the rest of life,” Csikszentmihalyi said during a TED talk in 2004. “You know that what you need to do is possible to do, even though difficult, and sense of time disappears. You forget yourself. You feel part of something larger.” Our nervous system is only capable of processing a certain amount of information at a time, he explains. That’s why you can’t listen and understand two people who are talking to you at once. So, when someone starts creating, his existence outside that activity becomes “temporarily suspended.” 2. It releases dopamine, which makes you feel good. Dopamine is a chemical released in the brain that makes you feel good. It’s responsible for allowing you to feel pleasure, satisfaction and motivation. Low levels can lead to lack of motivation and lack of excitement about things. So, it makes sense that when you’re not feeling your best, seeking out healthy activities that naturally raise dopamine levels could benefit your mood. These include exercise, having a relaxing massage and doing things you enjoy – like sewing! As Robin Shreeves writes, creativity is a feel-good high: “Why? One thought is that when we’re being creative, our brains release dopamine, a natural anti-depressant. Creativity that takes concentration is a non-medicinal way of getting a feel-good high. Scientists are even beginning to study the link between engaging in creative activities and the ability to reduce the mild cognitive impairment associated with aging. Crafting may even help to alleviate depression. One thought is that it calls on parts of the brain that are being used less and less often in our world of modern conveniences. The good news is that if you’re looking for a way to improve your mental health, trying a creative endeavour certainly can’t hurt.” 3. It can help improve self esteem. Mastering a new skill is a great way to help build self-esteem. This is why I developed my online sewing course for beginners. It’s so amazing and rewarding to watch new sewers learn their way around a sewing machine, develop more advanced techniques and gain confidence in their skills, going from nervous to self-assured and proud of their creations. The course is tailored for people wanting to learn at home, with no time pressure. It’s ideal for people with disability, chronic health problems or mental health conditions, because you can learn at your own pace with no pressure to keep up. I understand people have good days and not-so-good-days, so this course is the ideal place for a beginner to start in a friendly, supportive environment and gain all the amazing benefits sewing has to offer. 3. It gives you time for yourself. It feels like everyone is so busy these days that taking time out to do something for ourselves has become a luxury we can’t afford. There’s always something on the To Do list and that can become a little overwhelming at times. We all know we should practice self-care, but actually getting around to it is another story. No matter what stage of life you’re in, whether you’re young and carefree (or climbing the corporate ladder), a busy mum with little ones at home, or finally enjoying your retirement, everyone needs some regular ‘me time’. Scheduling time for yourself is important for your wellbeing. By taking up a hobby like sewing, you’ll have a fun, creative activity you can enjoy any time. 5. It helps you create social networks Although sewing might seem like a solitary activity, it can easily allow you to create social networks and build relationships with other sewers. Whether you decide to go along to a local sewing group in your area, or join an online community, the ability to build social connections can help foster feelings of wellbeing and reduce isolation. According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, social isolation and loneliness can be harmful to both mental and physical health. They are considered significant health and wellbeing issues in Australia because of the impact they have on peoples’ lives. For people who are shy, introverted or experiencing challenges with their mental health, it can sometimes be difficult to feel motivated to go out. But when you’re meeting with people who share a common hobby, you will always have something to talk about. As for online communities, there are some excellent ones, including mine! If you join my online sewing course you’ll have the opportunity to participate in the discussion group where you can share your ideas, ask questions and show off your fabulous creations. The members are extremely supportive and enjoy chatting with each other and learning new things. What is your favorite thing about sewing? So, I’m sure you’ve realised by now that I think sewing is the bee’s knees! But it’s not just me. As you’ve read, there’s plenty of research showing that sewing and other crafts: Allow your brain to switch off and enter that awesome state of ‘flow’ Can release feel-good dopamine, which increases happiness and motivation Can help improve your self-esteem, especially when learning a new skill Gives you a wonderful hobby that allows you to have time to yourself Helps create social networks, which can reduce feelings of isolation In addition to the health benefits, sewing can also save you money, allow you to make garments you can’t find in a store and make gifts for family and friends. Some people even fall so much in love with sewing, they turn their hobby into a career. So now it’s over to you. Would you like to learn to sew? Check out my fantastic Beginners Online Sewing Course and enjoy all the wonderful benefits sewing has to offer. *Please note, if you are concerned about your mental health or that of a friend, please get in touch with your GP or call Lifeline (in Australia) on 13 11 14.